Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, by Carrie Vaughn

January 27, 2009

When Kitty and Ben decide to elope to Las Vegas in Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, Kitty doesn’t expect it to turn into a working vacation. But she gets an opportunity to broadcast her radio show on television, which means she’ll be spending a little less time lounging by the pool and a little more time poking into the area’s supernatural community. She encounters a surprisingly large vampire population, a seductive group of lycanthropes, and a stage magician whose act might be based on real abilities. If that wasn’t enough, some people from Ben’s past are in town – bounty hunters who carry guns with silver ammunition.

After the end of the last one, I kind of expected a little more drama about Kitty and Ben adjusting to pack life and leadership. I couldn’t get into the wedding stuff, but I fully admit that a large part of that is my pro-Cormac bias. Ben feels like a default choice based mostly on circumstance, the idea of their wolves deciding for them isn’t exactly satisfying.

As usual, I loved the parts that dealt with Kitty’s work. Her preparations and broadcast were probably my favorite things about the book. I also enjoyed Ben’s interactions with his former colleagues. Some of the new characters were very interesting, but we didn’t get to know any of them that well.

Kitty seemed very proactive when it came to first her interviews and then chasing down leads related to the mystery plot. But her plan always came down to “go ask someone I recently met for help or information.” This may not have stood out so much if there hadn’t been several times when she was willing to chat about seemingly unrelated tangents (that later came in handy) or sit and socialize when in the middle of a possibly life-or-death search. She relied heavily on the large number of new characters, especially when she got in over her head. This rarely felt risky, because even before I knew what was going on it was clear which people could be trusted. The ending was a blur, some parts of it felt almost random, and I really didn’t care for one aspect of it. One person spent a lot of time off on an odd side plot that was dismissed much too quickly for how big a deal it was, which was a real disappointment.

I guess it may sound like I’m being a bit hard on poor Kitty, but I enjoyed the previous books enough that I have higher expectations for these. I’m really looking forward to Kitty Raises Hell, and I hope to see her take charge a little more next time out.

Scroll down for my specific complaint about the ending. It involves major spoilers, so avoid it until you’ve had a chance to read the book.

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spoiler warning

At the end, Kitty ends up kidnapped by a group of kinky cultists with a bondage fetish. This set off a few alarm bells, because “bondage kink” situations in urban fantasy novels often end up in places that I don’t care to read about. Thankfully things didn’t go that far, and my sensitivity to it is probably more due to unpleasant LKH flashbacks than any actual inappropriateness found in this book.

But then there was the Thing I Didn’t Like. Kitty’s still kidnapped, and she’s about to be sacrificed. They can’t do it until she shifts, and she feels the transformation coming on. It’s all very exciting. And then, at the last possible minute… the cavalry arrives. Not only is she rescued, but then she’s spirited away during the change so she can’t even help with the mopping up. By that point she had been saved by others a few times already, so it felt like every time there was a chase or a threat someone else ended up getting her out of it. I don’t expect or want her to become some action hero, but she came across as kind of helpless – especially considering her alpha status.


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